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Source: United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO)
Department of Public Information (DPI)
28 May 2009

Press Conference

          Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The United Nations was setting its sights on economic development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with the head of the United Nations country team telling correspondents today that humanitarian relief “is not the answer”.

“We are in the final stages of developing a United Nations plan which will underpin what the Palestinian Authority is doing with its Palestine reform and development plan,” said Maxwell Gaylard, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, who spoke at a Headquarters press conference, a day after his arrival for a week-long visit to New York.

At the moment, humanitarian work took up a great deal of time, with a bulk of United Nations activities centred on relief work in Gaza, said Mr. Gaylard, who is also Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Once home to a thriving, entrepreneurial, urban community, he said Gaza more closely resembled a welfare society after years under an Israeli blockade.  “We’re not pleased with it, but 80 per cent of the people of Gaza would rely on assistance of some sort,” he said, adding that the assistance came mostly from the United Nations, through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

He said the passage of goods from the outside world had been limited to a few food items and medical supplies after controls were tightened by Israel, following the end of its December 2008 military campaign, dubbed Operation Cast Lead.  Although the Occupied Territory shares a border with Egypt, bulk goods did not normally enter Palestine through the Egyptian border at Rafah, which was a pedestrian crossing. 

“For the provision of bulk supplies of cement and iron rods, there’s really only one answer at the moment in practical terms, and that’s from Israel,” explained Mr. Gaylard.  “That’s where the facilities are that can cope with bulk supplies.”

Operation Cast Lead had dealt a blow to the Palestinian economy after it flattened the industrial zone, he continued.  Businesses that once flourished in the Gaza Strip, from the garment and furniture industry or light construction, had moved to Egypt and beyond.  Also because of the tightened border controls, around 100,000 Palestinian workers who used to travel to work on Israeli farms no longer did so today. 

About 4,000 homes were destroyed in that conflict and another 40,000 or so suffered damage of some kind, he said.  Paperwork has been completed, and funding secured, for projects worth about $100 million, including on apartment complexes and water and sanitation systems.  But, at the moment, Gaza received “no cement, steel rods, roofing material -- nothing you need to build a house”.

Following Israel’s military campaign, donors had convened in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where billions of dollars were pledged for the reconstruction of Gaza, he continued.  But very little of what had been pledged had materialized.  “Of course, we haven’t been able to test the donors on whether these pledges will become reality, for the simple reason that early recovery and reconstruction in Gaza is not possible at the moment because of the blockade.”

In the West Bank, no significant economic development could take place until movement and access was eased, he said, explaining that 630 restrictions of one form or another ‑‑ such as ditches, barrier gates, cement blocks ‑‑ continued to impede movement.  It was difficult for the United Nations to reach vulnerable populations, especially in areas dominated by an Israeli presence.  It was currently attempting to reach Bedouin herders living in the south-eastern part of the West Bank, who are suffering from drought.  But “Area C”, where they lived, is largely Israeli-controlled.  Farmers living in areas falling between the Israeli barrier wall and the green line, called the “seam zone”, were also difficult to reach.

Lack of Palestinian reconciliation presented its own complications, he said, and the United Nations was holding discussions with the Egyptian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, on its role in promoting unity talks among the Palestinians.  “The achievement of some sort of unity or reconciliation will be very good across the spectrum, both politically and for us operationally on the ground.  It will make life so much easier if we are dealing with one Palestinian entity, frankly.” 

He said that the United Nations interacted on the operational level with both the Palestinian Authority, whose administrative capital in located in Ramallah, in the West Bank, as well as with Hamas, which currently governed Gaza.  “As the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, I not only can do that, I’m expected to do that, in order to deliver services to the people.”

Meanwhile, lines of communication with the Israeli Government and its administering bodies in the Occupied Territories had been “pretty good” at an operational level, he said.  But, relations at senior policy-making levels were not significantly different, even after a change in Israeli leadership.

He said that conversations took place with Israelis at the operational level “all the time”, and that they had sometimes responded by removing some barriers, which was welcome, but “there was an awful lot left”. 

“Clearly, of the 630, there are some that are much important than others,” he said.  “One blockage might block a village or a house of 10 people.  Another one might affect the operations of an entire city like Nablus.”

A representative from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who accompanied Mr. Gaylard, said there were 450,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in 149 settlements.  That number did not include people living in several hundred outposts, some which were deemed illegal even by the Israeli Government.
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